My dear Hansie,
I have a tale for you which I think you must hear, and hear from me. You will not like it all: the first part you will not like at all, but bear with me, Hansie, because I think you will find the ending satisfactory. I write this in English although it would be easier for us both if I did not, but I think you will want to print it off and show it to Tim.
First of all, I will thank you for what you did to help Phil. He is much better – although he complains, not very seriously, that you are heavy handed. Please, Hansie, thank Tim too. That will not have been easy for him, I know.
Now, you know that I have been visiting friends, and calling on old team mates and the like. I have been travelling a great deal, and in several cases, there has been a certain amount of publicity. It seems that people still remember the Viper, although they do not in general know that I have left the country – and since the events I wish to describe to you, I am not advertising that fact. I do not particularly want to draw attention to where I currently live, nor to Phil.
I ended up last week at our old club, where I saw several acquaintances known to you. This is not the time for reminiscences, and I will not go into much detail. When I come home (Hansie, when did I begin to think of England as home? Do you do so now?) we will find time, and talk of such things, for there were friends of yours who asked if I knew where you were and what you were doing. I said that I did not, because I did not know whether you wished to cut all such ties, but I have taken names and addresses, and several email addresses too, and I will give them to you and you may do as you please.
And there was a party given by Adam Coetzee. I think you will remember him; I think he was just retiring from play as you arrived. He is president of the club now, and he had a cocktail party of sorts, and I was invited, and of course I went. I would perhaps not have done out of choice – I do not know. I did have several good years at the club, and if my last was less good, that was my own fault. But I went. It was not entirely a rugby affair, any more than the events we attend now are entirely rugby affairs. There were a lot of local people there too.
I was introduced to a large number of people I did not know and have no particular wish to meet again, and I drank a certain amount of a rather nasty wine which was pressed upon me, and presently, Adam turned to a lady on his left, and said, “But here is someone you may remember, Pieter. Mevrou van den Broek, do you recall Pieter de Vries?”
And your mother, Hansie, held out her hand to me, and said, “I remember Meneer de Vries very well.”
I cannot imagine what possessed me, Hansie. Even now, days later, I am wholly at a loss to know what persuaded me to do what I did. I took a step backward, and I said, very clearly, “Mevrou van den Broek will not wish to shake hands with such as me.” And she looked a little taken aback, and so did Adam, and she said something about having been introduced to me by her late husband. But perhaps the bad wine had gone to my head, for I said, still clearly, “Mevrou van den Broek thinks that men such as I am are disgraceful and indecent and freaks, and I would not force her to acknowledge me.” And I bowed to her and moved away. And she knew what I was saying, Hansie, although Adam did not, for she dropped her glass of wine.
Hansie, I am not proud of that. It was rude. Whatever your mother said or did, that was a violent response of which I am now ashamed. You and I were both raised in a generation, a community, a style in which a gentleman did not say such a thing to a lady. Did not act so as to put a lady out of countenance, for she was very much out of countenance. I fear that even now, should my mother hear what I said and did, I would not sit comfortably until I got back to England. In England the term ‘gentleman’ is old fashioned and rather unpleasant, but you know what I mean by it. I have heard since that Adam believes that I have been having an affair with a married woman, and I am happy to leave things so.
Anyway, I made my excuses as soon as I decently could and went back to my hotel, and the next day I spent with some friends in the country. But when I came back to the hotel, they told me that a lady had telephoned to speak with me, and had left a message that she would call again, and her name was Cornelia van der Merwe.
I knew no-one of that name, and could make nothing of the message. The name van der Merwe says to me only the Fanie van der Merwe jokes, although I did know that it was your mother’s maiden name. But sure enough, the next morning, I had a call from a nurse, whose name I do not recall, saying that Cornelia van der Merwe wished to speak with me, and asking if I could call upon her, because she is elderly and her health did not permit her to leave her house.
I asked why Mevrou van der Merwe wished to speak with me, and the nurse said: it is to do with her great-nephew, Johannes van den Broek.
Hansie, I did not know what to do. I thought at first: I will not go. This is Hansie's family business, and it is not my concern, and without Hansie's express permission I will not interfere. And then I thought: this woman at least acknowledges that she has a relative called Johannes van den Broek, and I should go. And between the two, I thought: I should telephone Hansie and find out what he would like me to do.
In the end, I thought: I will go. If I ask Hansie, he will have to make a difficult decision, and it may upset him. I will go, and if it should be unpleasant, I will simply never tell him about it. And if that was the wrong decision, then I beg your pardon for it, but I do not think it was. And I would have you believe that I simply did what I thought was best.
So I said to the nurse that I would call upon Mevrou van der Merwe at her convenience, and we made an appointment for the same morning.
You probably know, Hansie: it is a big house on the outskirts of the town. The nurse came to greet me at the door, and she led me through the house to a large garden, and to Cornelia van de Merwe who was sitting in her garden.
She was very polite to me. She called me ‘Meneer de Vries’ and she offered me refreshments, and I had no idea at all of why I was there. With another woman I might have asked, but with that one, I sat politely and waited to be told. The nurse came outside with a tray, and I rose to my feet and took it from her, and held it while she arranged a table, and when she passed me my coffee I was able to remember enough Xhosa from my youth to thank her, and the old lady and the nurse nodded at each other, and it felt to me as if I had passed a test, but I did not know what it was. She is seriously scary, as Phil would say, that old lady. And presently she said, “So, Meneer, you are the moffie who corrupted my great-nephew Johannes”.
Hansie, I was completely taken aback. That lady must be in her eighties, and it is not a term I would have expected her to use. But I could see from the glint in her eye that she was waiting to see what I would say or do, so I said, “Mevrou, I am certainly a moffie, but I do not believe that I have ever corrupted anybody”.
And she laughed, like a girl of twenty, and said, “You met my niece two nights ago, Meneer, and the story is already around the family”. And I was rather uneasy, because although I have the right to say what I will about myself, I have also to consider Phil. So I said, “You are Ellie’s aunt, then, Mevrou, and Hansie's great-aunt”, and she nodded. And I said, “I was not polite to your niece, the other night”, and she said, “The woman is so unbelievably stupid that she should not be let out alone”, and I was so taken aback again that I laughed, and suddenly we were friends, and I don’t yet quite know how or why.
And eventually, I said, “Mevrou, tell me what your niece has said about me and about Hansie.” And she said that your mother had said that I had corrupted you, that before you met me you had been a normal boy, but that I had drawn you into unnatural practices. And I am telling you this, Hansie, because I think that you may wish to get in touch with your Great-Aunt Cornelia, and if you do, you may encounter other members of your family who will repeat this to you. And I am telling you that you do not need to worry about what is said of me. The people about whom I care will not believe it, and the people who will believe it, I do not care about. I will not have you upsetting yourself about this – and if I find you distressing yourself about it, I will give you something to be distressed about. Your Aunt Cornelia does not believe it, and she is the first of your family whose opinion I think to have any value.
She said she did not know you well, and she wanted me to tell her about you. And I said “Why should you think that I would know?” Which was most definitely the wrong thing to say, Hansie. She froze me to my chair, and she said very firmly, “Meneer de Vries, I may be old and I may be female, but I am most certainly not stupid”. And I stammered a little and said that I did not assume her to be stupid. So she rose from her chair, and said, “Come inside, Meneer, and I will show you”. So I gave her my arm and we went into the house and she led me to a room containing a computer, and she said, “Listen, Meneer. I married Jan van der Merwe before I was nineteen. I had no education worth mentioning, because the girls of my generation did not, but Jan taught me a great deal. Jan was a stockbroker, and we spent half the year here and half the year in New York for many years after the war. I had no children, and when my husband died, there was quite a lot of money. And I remembered what he had taught me, and now I am my own stockbroker, and there is a very great deal of money. And money, Meneer, is power. I have this computer and I know how to use it. I do all my share deals on line, and I control my finances across several time zones and I follow the stock markets in London and New York and Tokyo.”
So I stopped thinking that I knew what was coming, Hansie, and I opened my ears and my mind.
And your Aunt Cornelia went on to talk about you. She had wanted to know why you had not come home for your father’s funeral, and she had asked your mother, who had told her that you had not cared enough to do so because you worked for Hamilton’s, a big sports equipment manufacturer in England.
Hansie, I am sorry to tell you this, but it will be better for you to know, and to put it aside.
Your Aunt Cornelia was rather angry at this; she thought it was disrespectful. But something in your mother’s manner stopped her saying so, and she found that she began to wonder if it were true. So she decided to find out. She tells me that she does not sleep well, and when she is wakeful, she surfs the Net. She says it is interesting. That one, as Phil would say, has all her marbles. So she Googled you. Apparently she put in your name, and Hamilton’s name, and England, and she found the company website, and among other things she found the advertising items about James sponsoring the rugby. And she saw the photographs of the celebration after the final last season, and captioned pictures of James, and of you, and of me. She remembered who I was – she says she saw me play once.
And she stopped there, and thought that perhaps it was true what Ellie had said, but she wondered why you did not come later to deal with the farm and your inheritance. And eventually, she asked Ellie. I think she is a lady who does not scruple to ask when she wants to know something. So Ellie said that you would not come, and that Matthias had not named you in the will, but she would not say why.
And Aunt Cornelia left things like that until she heard that Viper de Vries was to be at the rugby club, and then she wondered if I would tell her any more. And she said she had not decided on how to approach me when the tale was brought to her by her nurse that Viper de Vries had offended Mevrou van den Broek at the rugby club. It seems that the nurse has no love for your mother, who calls her ‘girl’ and demands coffee when she visits, and treats her with no respect (and I wonder if perhaps, had I not spoken politely to the nurse, your Aunt Cornelia would have told me nothing. But I can still recall the whipping my father gave me for being impolite to our cook when I was quite small).
So Aunt Cornelia (and she said I might call her so) called Ellie to find out what this was about, and Ellie, who was much annoyed, told her that I was the moffie who had corrupted you, that Matthias had disinherited you, and that you would not receive anything from her.
Bear up, Hansie; this is the point at which it becomes better.
Your Aunt Cornelia asked firstly if it were true that you were gay, and I admitted it. I would not like to lie to that one, I think. And I am reasonably certain that I would not get away with it. And she wanted to know what you were doing in England, and whether you were happy, and I ended up finding Frances Milton’s website for her, and showing her the big portrait Frances took of you, and then the one of Tim, and yes, the one of Phil.
And then I gathered my courage, and I said, “Mevrou, what is it you want of me?”
She surprised me again. She said, “Is my great-nephew a good man?”
I had said “yes” before I had even understood the question. And then I qualified it. “He is disturbed by the monsters and ghosts of his childhood. He has not fully come to terms with Julius’ death, and he feels the breach with his family very much.”
“What does he do about it?”
“He is learning to accept that he cannot do or be what his family wants of him, and that he does not have to feel guilty about that. And that if his family will not accept him, there are others who will.”
I must have looked surprised at that, for she said, dryly, “Some of us, Meneer, can manage something more constructive than ‘fokking moffie’. And my niece is my niece by marriage, not by blood, and I have always thought her a dreadfully stupid woman who married a dreadfully stubborn man. Will my nephew email me from England, and tell me about himself?”
I said I did not know.
“Will you ask him to?”
So I am asking you, Hansie. I am not saying that you should, or you should not, but I think it would be good for you to have some relative who is interested in you.
Then she said, “Meneer, I am an old woman, and I am making the proper disposition of my assets. My lawyer and my accountant tell me that I should look to put my money two generations away from me, not one. I have great nephews and nieces by blood, van Veldens, as I was before I married, and I have provided for them. And I have looked at my husband’s family, and that is Johannes and his cousin Millie Swart. And Millie is as much a fool as her mother and her aunt, but I will see her provided for too, and the money tied up so that her husband cannot lay hand on it, for he is not a good man.”
“He is the one who hits her?” I asked innocently, because I remembered what you had said once before, when John Marshall hit his wife. And Aunt Cornelia laughed, and said, “Even you know that? I must tell Martha and Jacob that a visitor from England knew what was happening to their daughter, and then perhaps they will help her when she says she wants to leave, and stop talking about the scandal. I can make them see that the scandal is already known, if you know it.”
And then she looked at me, and she said, “And should I provide for Johannes?”
How could I answer that? I said as much, and I said to her that you had long ceased to expect anything from your family, but she said, “And that is wrong. I remember Matthias saying to me once that Johannes had some foolish idea of buying a vineyard, but that Matthias was determined that he should go into the army. So if Johannes still wants a vineyard, then when I am gone he will be able to have it. And if by then he wants something else and does not buy a vineyard, well, I will not haunt him. If Matthias and Ellie will not provide for him, then I will, and you will tell him so, Meneer de Vries. I will trust you with this, because I have Googled you too, and your reputation is that of a man who can be trusted.”
Hansie, little old ladies are not what they were when I was young. Or possibly they are and I simply never noticed it before.
Your mother is not to know this, because your Aunt Cornelia says she can do without ‘the silly woman hounding me to put all my money into her church. She does not know how much money there is and by the time she finds out, I will not have to listen to her any longer’. She did not want to email you herself, although I offered her the address, because she says you will probably not remember her and would not understand until I had explained it all to you.
And I came away thinking that Frances Milton will be just such a power in her old age, and with Aunt Cornelia’s promise that your family will not repeat to outsiders any stories about me if she can prevent it, and I have every faith in her ability to prevent it. But I should not start looking at property quite yet, Hansie, because for all that she said about her health, that lady is interested in the world around her, and I do not think that she is ready to die just yet. Particularly not before she has met your Tim.
So will you please think of sending her an email, at least to tell her that I have explained everything to you, because I should not like her to think that I have failed her.
The house felt different when I opened the door. How can you tell a house with someone in it from an empty one? But I could. Nothing looked different downstairs, but when I listened, I could hear running water.
I went upstairs and found Piet’s case, empty and ready to go back into the loft, on the landing. In the bedroom, his belongings were back in their usual places. I kicked off my shoes and lay down on the bed to wait. He was another ten minutes before he came out of the bathroom, hair damp and slicked down, freshly shaved and smelling of soap.
“Phil! I did not hear you come in!”
I was off the bed and across the room into his arms. His towel, in the manner of bath towels, instantly started to come adrift. I glanced down, and smirked. “You’ve missed me then?”
“I have missed you dreadfully, koekie. I have been looking forward to coming home to you.”
“Did you have a good trip? Did you see everybody you wanted to?”
“And several I didn’t. Has Hansie told you about the email I sent him?”
“He and Tim took me out for a drink on Friday, and he showed me. Bit of an eye opener, wasn’t it?”
“Phil, you had to have been there. I really cannot begin to tell you how strange it was. I have rarely encountered a tannie like Cornelia van der Merwe.”
“A what? What’s a tannie?”
“Does your family have a matriarch? The one against whom you are simply not going to win the argument? Ever?”
“Of course. My mum’s cousin Megan. Nobody messes with cousin Megan. Everybody has one of those.”
“Well, that’s a tannie. But tell me, you and Hansie are comfortable together? I was afraid you might not be.”
“We’re O.K. Tim didn’t like it, though. He didn’t say anything, and he was good about it, but he wasn’t happy. I spent the night there with them, and he was a bit – a bit clingy with Hansie. I was careful, Piet. I didn’t lean on Hansie myself. I know exactly how he felt, remember?”
“So you would, koekie. I’m sure you were careful. I wish it had not been necessary.”
I flushed. “I’m sorry. It was sloppy of me. I’ll try not to do it again.”
He pulled me back into his arms. “Foolish boy, I did not mean your fault. You are young still, and it is to be expected that you will make mistakes. That is how you learn. No, I wish that you did not become so distressed when it is not possible for you to take your punishment immediately.”
I hunched a shoulder, awkwardly, which brought it within reach of Piet’s mouth. “I know, it’s stupid. But I get so – so uptight, and then I can’t think of anything else. I know it’s silly. I know you won’t give me more that I can stand. I know that afterwards you’ll hug me and we’ll make it up, and I love that. But just waiting for it? Piet, I can’t bear it.”
“Mmm. I shall have to think about this. There is no good reason for it, Phil. You are brave enough. You have never refused me, never fought me. It is silly, as you say, and we shall find a way around it. Shall we not?”
I was doubtful. “Do you think we can?”
“I shall think of something.”
I hugged him again. “Looks to me as if you have been thinking of something already.”
He heaved a sigh. “Koekie, I have thought of you and of what I want to do with you since I left Jo’burg. I have been unbelievably uncomfortable all the way on the plane, because I could only think of you.”
“I love the way you say that. What you want to do with me, not to me.”
“They aren’t exclusive. With you, to you. . . Why have you still got so many clothes on, koekie?”
“Because I like it when you undress me.”
“Ah, well, in that case, I had better make a start, had I not? Far too many clothes, Phil. Let’s get some of them off.”
He was very thoughtful all afternoon, but I put some of it down to weariness. It’s not a big time difference between South Africa and here, but it’s a long overnight flight. I made us an early meal, and afterwards he went and sat on the sofa and I sorted through cds to find some music. We have almost no tastes in common: he likes rock and roll, and very early blues, and I like opera (you needn’t laugh, I’m quite well aware that I don’t understand half of it) and New Orleans jazz, but I found something soothing, I can’t remember what, and then Piet said, “Phil? Go into the hall and bring me my gloves, please.”
What on earth for? But I went and found them and brought them to him, and he dropped them beside him, and reached for me, and began to unfasten my jeans.
“What’s going on? Why the gloves?”
“I’m going to spank you, koekie. Later. Quite a lot later. Take your shoes off.”
“Because I can’t get your jeans off if you don’t.”
“No, why are you going to spank me? I haven’t done anything!” It sounded a bit whiny. Panicky.
“I can’t believe that, really, Phil. You’re sure to have done something to deserve a spanking, I just don’t know what it is yet. Now, get those jeans off.”
“Honestly I haven’t! I haven’t!”
“Well, there’s arguing with me, for a start. Let’s have these off too, shall we? Right off. You know, koekie, I have never seen a man with a rear as good as yours. Bring it down here where I can get at it.”
I stretched along the sofa, bottom presented over his lap, trembling. “I haven’t done anything, Piet. I haven’t!”
“You’ve been silly about waiting for me to come home and spank you, haven’t you?”
“Well, yes, but I couldn’t help it.”
“I shall teach you to help it. Before we go to bed, I shall spank you.”
My watch was under my nose. Five past seven. Nowhere near bedtime. I trembled again, and began to feel sick.
From the corner of my eye, I could see Piet pulling on his gloves: very peculiar. Then I felt the coolness of leather running up the back of my thigh and across my backside.
“I have really missed this, geliefde. I have missed you. I would not have believed that I could miss someone so much.” He stroked my back and worked at the muscles around my waist and I began, rather unwillingly, to relax. “I love you more than anything, do you know that?” The gloved hand was sliding between my thighs, stroking, tickling. I wriggled a little. “Are you mine, Phil?” A cool finger down the inside of my thigh. “Are you?”
“Yes,” I breathed, helplessly. A hand ran smoothly up my back and I arched a little, like a cat.
“Let’s have this shirt off too, shall we? Yes, beautiful. I showed your picture to Great Aunt Cornelia, did you know? She thought you were beautiful too. But I didn’t tell her what a nice arse you have. Although if she had looked at the cup final pictures on the Hamiltons’ website, she will already know. Very spankable, Phil. And obviously spanked, too. You have a few marks left. Hansie was thorough, yes?”
“Very,” I said ruefully. “I told you, he had a strap. Hurt like hell.”
“Poor Phil. And nobody to kiss it better. Or rub it better. Like this.”
I gasped a little. The glove was smooth and cool against my skin. “No. . . although Hansie did give me a hug.”
“Yes, he would do that. But he would not do this, would he?”
I whimpered a little. “Now, you see, poppie, had you waited for me, I could have done this” (squeak), “and this” (gasp), “and this, too” (whine). “So when you have misbehaved, you would do better to wait for me to come and spank you, rather than going to see Hansie, wouldn’t you?”
I squirmed a little, over his lap. “I know, Piet, but I just get so – do that again.”
“What, this? Like that? But you are not distressed now, are you?”
“Not precisely distressed, no.”
“And yet you know that I am going to spank you tonight. Some time tonight.”
I whined again. I didn’t want to think about that. His left hand came up to my face; I could smell the leather as he touched my cheek, stroked my hair off my face. He touched his fingertip to my lip, and my mouth opened. My breathing was ragged. “Do you fear me, Phil?”
“No,” I whispered.
“Do you fear the spanking?”
“I fear it, not you. And Hansie's strap. I’m afraid of that.”
He was amused. “And what about your own paddle that you used on Tim? Do you fear that?”
“But you do not fear me?”
“Good. Because I will never give you more than you have deserved, or more than you can bear.”
“Hansie said that, or something like it.”
“Hansie knows. Do you trust me?”
Look, what was this? Twenty questions? I’m like most men, I can’t do two things at once even when one of them is just to lie passively while somebody else touches me in all the places I most like to be touched. I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. I can’t think and feel all at once.
“Do you trust me?”
“Yes! You know I do! I wouldn’t let you – I wouldn’t let you punish me if I didn’t!”
“Ah. Yes. Do I force you, Phil?”
“No. Never. Oh yes, do that again. . .”
“So why do you come to be punished, my hart?”
“Because – because I’ve done something I shouldn’t.”
“And why do I punish you?”
“To remind me not to do it again.”
“Don’t wriggle so. Am I going to spank you tonight?”
“You said so,” I reminded him, resentfully.
“And am I going to make love with you?”
“I hope so. Yes. Please.”
He rolled me onto my back, pulled my shoulders up until he could kiss me. I was melting, subsiding into a smooth pool of sensation and lust. He bit my lip and ran his tongue over it, and eased under my chin to nip my throat, and flicked at my earlobe. I was shivering with need, and his hand skimmed my body, over chest and ribs, back across my stomach and down. And down. And up. I purred with delight and began to push up to him, to his hands, to the glove – and found myself flipped face down again, and teased with threats and promises, threats of a spanking and promises of something better.
I don’t know how many times he did it, chilled me with menaces, warmed me with caresses, until I couldn’t distinguish one from the other. I was so hard it hurt, desperate for his hands, his mouth, his love. Begging. Frantic. Until I ended up face down, whimpering.
“What do you want, Phil?”
“Love me. . .”
“Not until you’ve been spanked.”
“Then for God’s sake spank me. Now.”
“Say please. . .”
“Oh, please, please, Piet, spank me now.”
And he did. Not hard, not seriously, just light smacks, the crack of a leather-clad palm on my bare bottom. Enough to warm and sting, enough to make me writhe helplessly over his lap, rubbing myself against his thigh. Enough to convince me that I didn’t fear him, I just wanted him. I wanted this. All of it. More of it. Whatever he wanted, I wanted. He rolled me again, curled me into his lap, my smarting backside hot against his clothing, and reached to touch me, and this time he didn’t stop, this time it was right, it was – it was – there were sparks behind my eyelids, stars, red and gold, and heat and flames and Piet. Always Piet. And an explosion of sensation and need and delight. And Piet.
He held me close through the aftershocks, and I rested my head against him while I remembered how to breathe and my body decided slowly that it wasn’t dead.
“These gloves will never be the same again.”
“I’ll buy you some new ones. Don’t throw those ones away.”
“Keep them for me.”
He laughed, softly. “I’ll need to find some tissues, then. And possibly leather polish.”
“Mmmm. Piet? There’s an iron bar digging into me.”
“I know, koekie. I just love to see you like that.”
“What, shagged out?”
“Helpless, and mine. Are you mine?”
“Always. If you help me up, I might be able to move enough that we could do something about the iron bar.”
“Turn over, koekie. I know what to do about the iron bar. Look, if you kneel down and lean on the cushions. . .”
Later – not that much later actually – in the tactile darkness of our bed, he said to me, softly, “I’m going to spank you again. Tomorrow.”
I thought about this, and curled more tightly round him, wrapping an arm over his waist to keep him close.
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